Egypt-born visual artist Nader Sadek has been bringing the worlds of avant-garde art and extreme metal together for several years. His 2007 installation Faceless arose out of his experiences living as a metalhead in Cairo, and combined oddly Edward Gorey-ish drawings of a niqab-clad woman standing in landscapes not unlike the ones you might see on metal album covers or fantasy novels. The soundtrack to the piece had members of Morbid Angel, Emperor, Obituary and Testament performing an experimental piece that mixed death metal and Middle Eastern music alongside Middle Eastern musicians like Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Raquy Danziger. Sadek has also designed costumes and sets for the likes of Mayhem and Attila Csihar.
This week Sadek releases his first full-length album, In the Flesh (Season of Mist). His collaborators include former Morbid Angel vocalist Steve Tucker, Mayhem guitarist Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen and Cryptopsy drummer Flo Mounier; Csihar and Cattle Decapitation’s Travis Ryan contribute vocals to the record, while Morbid Angel’s Thor Myhren, Mike Lerner of Behold…the Arctopus, and Tony Norman (formerly of Monstrosity) perform guitar solos. Sadek is planning to make videos for every track on the album; the first one, for “Nigredo in Necromance,” is above.
Sound of the City spoke with Sadek by phone on Monday.
What was your contribution to this record–just the concept, or did you write the lyrics and/or play some of the music?
I’m a little bit into everything. I wrote about 30 percent of the music, despite not being a musician. I got a keyboard from a friend and hooked it up to GarageBand and was churning things out. I really believe that one can just attempt to get creative in a certain medium and just explore and try and make things work, so what I did was come up with melodies, which I then explained to Rune for the most part, ’cause he was my [main] collaborator in writing songs. Although there is one song–“Nigredo in Necromance”–I wrote the rhythm and harmony and arranged it, 100 percent by me. Whereas “Petrophilia,” for example, the second track, I wrote the melody and then I wrote some other riffs and Rune took them and pushed them together, and then we worked out the arrangement together. And when we met up with Flo [Mounier], he had some ideas as far as arrangement, and we made it work that way. That’s my favorite song, because it truly is a song that we all worked on, everyone had his input. Me and Rune wrote the songs, Flo came up with the rhythms, and Steve [Tucker] wrote the lyrics and sang. So it was really a team effort.
Putting the whole thing together, really directing the music… in the beginning it was [clear] that the songs are obviously death metal, but I didn’t want it to be just death metal, I wanted something else, and that was the point of bringing in Rune. I wanted to find someone who had a black metal sensibility, but who could still play death metal, and the first song that was written that’s on the album was “Soulless.” I remember when we wrote that song it had an ending [riff], and I was always fantasizing about what that riff would sound like if it was played by someone who’s more of a black metal guitarist. Because it was kind of a black metal riff, but it was played in a kind of Hate Eternal, pure death metal style. So that gave me the idea of how to put this together, and what I needed to explain to Rune and Steve. Because Steve, he just thought it was gonna be straight-up death metal, and I was like, “Actually, it’d be really interesting if we try to make these death metal songs black metal by putting in these harmonies that are part of black metal.” And that’s why Rune was so perfect, because when I listen to Mayhem, especially the album Chimera, it is actually death metal with black metal vocals and black metal drumming. Listening to that album, I was like, this guy would be really good in a death metal band; he just gets it, he gets the whole harmonic thing. So that was my direction for Rune and Steve. Steve was pretty skeptical at first, but once we met up and the guys started playing, it was pretty obvious. The chemistry really showed the potential of what these guys could do.
In the video for “Nigredo in Necromance,” you’re the person who’s seen playing guitar, but you don’t actually play guitar, right?
No, I can’t say I do to any professional extent. But the character’s not supposed to be me. You’ll see this character reappear in all the other videos, he’s kind of like the protagonist of the whole story, because really the album is supposed to be a series of music videos. We decided to make the album first and then find the funding to do the rest of the videos. I just finished another one [for “Sulffer”] and am going to start working on a third one soon.
Would you say the music created for Faceless was a stepping stone to this album, and this music?
Absolutely, and I wouldn’t say I planned it that way, because I never anticipate getting big funding. Not that this was big, but it was a lot more than I’m used to working with. We’re only talking about in the end a couple of grand–I don’t work with 200,000 or a half million, I don’t circulate in those circles, I’m a starving artist, but I just never thought it would get to this. It was definitely a fantasy, like, wow, I got one death metal song done, hopefully it’ll go somewhere and someday turn into a full album, and it did.
The album’s theme is basically humanity’s pursuit of its own destruction via its dependence on petroleum. Faceless was about the alienation of metal fans within Islamic culture. Is there any connection between those two concerns?
Oh, absolutely. My work is always a continuation of itself, and has always been about petroleum dependency. It’s just that with Faceless, I approached it from a completely different perspective, where I was thinking about power. What is power, how do we perceive power, and when I was thinking about perception, it led me to think about how I was being perceived and how others were being perceived, and why cultures choose to hate one another. And it had a lot to do with insecurity and the desire to feel superior. I saw how when I had really long hair and was wearing Deicide t-shirts and was walking around the streets of Cairo, people were not very friendly, they were quite intimidated, and I thought that was really interesting. I wasn’t a horrible person; I just looked the part. And when I came to New York, I decided I could take that experience further and see where it went. So I tried it out, wearing the niqab walking around the streets of New York, and got the same reaction–people were intimidated, they treated me like I was strange, dark, mysterious. So in a strange way, it’s a tangent but it’s related back to petroleum, because the conflict between the cultures kind of led me to explore that side of it.
Once you’ve completed the videos for all the songs on In the Flesh, will they be shown somewhere, as part of an installation or an exhibit?
That might happen some time down the line, but for now they’re just videos that are gonna be on YouTube, and once I’m done with all of them, which I hope will take less than a year to happen, I’ll make a really special DVD with a live show that shows the band. And then that way, you’ll get to see–because I realize that my involvement superficially is invisible, so I want people to see that this isn’t just a band, it’s a big production, and I really have my hands in everything. Sometimes I don’t play an instrument, but where I lack I make up for visually, and behind the studio doors, or prior to the studio, I am very much involved. A lot of those riffs are riffs I have written. I think a lot of people don’t understand that, because it doesn’t happen in death metal that there’s a composer and then there’s a musician. I didn’t write the whole album, but I did write one whole song, and then I contributed riffs here and there and collaborated intensely with Rune on the second track [“Petrophilia”]. The main riff of that song, I wrote. So the DVD is gonna show what I do live, and how serious a project it is and where it can go.